Yes, Lane Kiffin coached a high-powered offense badly in need of a starting center to fill the roster void created by All-Conference USA selection Antonyo Woods’ graduation. But Diaz, who already secured a prestigious undergraduate degree from Tulane University in management marketing, found something of value for his post-football career, too.
Nationally, there aren’t many universities offering an MBA in Sport Management, and Program Director Jim Riordan has developed FAU’s into one of the world’s elite.
“When I started the process of leaving Tulane and I looked into FAU and I saw that, it actually drew me in more because there are not many schools that offer this, really,” said Diaz, the Owls’ starting center who has already completed two summer classes in the program.
“It was a very impressive program. I’m very big into sports and business. Combining them both, I think, was best for me.”
Diaz isn’t alone in that thinking. Antonio Riles, who lines up next to Diaz at right guard, transferred from Florida to FAU this summer as a grad student, joining the Sports MBA program.
Like Diaz, Riles envisions a career in sports. Both hope those careers begin in the NFL, but an MBA in Sports Management will look good on a resume once their playing days are complete.
“Not to say that I can’t be (NFL) caliber, but I want to learn how to do way more stuff and be more available for everybody, be able to work behind the camera and in front of the camera,” said Riles who earned a communications degree while in Gainesville.
Riles became the fourth high-profile football graduate transfer in the past year to enroll in FAU’s Sports Management MBA program. Under NCAA rules, athletes who have already earned an undergraduate degree can transfer to a different school for a graduate program without having to sit out a season.
Defensive tackle Jeremiah Taleni and wide receiver John Franklin entered the program after transferring from Pitt and Auburn, respectively, last season, but neither is currently enrolled at FAU.
“Jim Riordan’s been great,” Kiffin said, “He even meets with these kids when they come and visit on their unofficial or official visits. Obviously a great program over there. A number of kids have gone through it. That’s all part of kids choosing where they go is there are all kinds of different things that go into that. Sometimes the ones that have figured it out, the education aspects are a big part of that.”
While the program may aid in recruiting, it’s far from a repository for athletes going through the academic motions while extending their college football careers.
Truth is, the FAU Sports MBA program, a program that would by its nature draw the interest of athletes, is rather exclusive. Of the approximately 75 students currently in the program – 30 taking classes on campus, another 45 or so taking online classes – about a quarter of the participants are either athletes, both male and female, or are currently affiliated with the athletic department.
“We don’t give any special attention to athletes,” Program Director Jim Riordan said. “They have the same rules for admission requirements that every other regular student has. If there’s somebody that comes in who has a little bit a of a test score or GPA [question], what we do is conditionally admit them. They can’t get a grade lower than a B for the first academic year. They’ve been able to do that. We haven’t had to dismiss any of the athletes so far.”
While many colleges offer undergraduate programs of lesser ilk as part of their education or kinesiology schools, FAU elected to build the program’s integrity by making it the second school nationally, and first in Florida, housed in an Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business-accredited business school.
That’s one reason SportsBusiness International consistently ranks FAU’s Sports MBA program among the Top 30 of its kind internationally, coming in as high as No. 3 in 2016.
“A lot of colleges and universities look for the sports management program to be a dumping ground for their athletes,” Riordan said. “That’s why we don’t have an undergraduate program here. Kids aren’t sure what they want to do. We look for the sports business executive person that wants to be the sports business student as opposed to be the sports business fan.”
Launched in 2000 when it was housed on FAU’s Fort Lauderdale campus, the Sports Management MBA program didn’t admit its first football player until quarterback Quez Johnson enrolled in 2015. Johnson received his degree and worked in FAU’s athletic department as a student athlete development coordinator before recently moving to the school’s admissions department.
Non football-playing graduates from the program have gone on to become the Executive Director of the Palm Beach County Sports Commission (George Lindley), the CFO for Tennessee’s athletic department (Brett Huebner), the Miami Heat’s Director of Interactive Marketing and New Media (Jennifer Tobias), and, for the Florida Panthers, manager of hockey operations (Mike Dixon), assistant to the general manager (Braden Birch), and manager of hockey administration (Sydney Bell).
The program stipulates that each participant must have an in internship in some form of sports business endeavor. It also won’t allow on-campus students to hold a full time job outside the sports world.
As a result, the number of non-athlete members in the MBA program who either hold internships with or are directly employed by the FAU athletic department often reaches double digits. The commute from work to the classroom for many of them will be shortened in the coming years when the $50 million Schmidt Athletic Complex, currently under construction next to Howard Schnellenberger Field, is complete. The Sports Management MBA program will remain under the umbrella of FAU’s business school, but the offices and classroom will reside in the Schmidt complex.
Safety Jake Stoshak, linebacker Andrew Soroh, and defensive tackle Ray Ellis, all of whom received undergraduate degrees from FAU while playing for the Owls, are currently pursuing their MBA in sports management.
“I think having the athletes – in knowing about winning and losing, about fair play, about ethics, about social responsibility – I think they experience that in their practices, in their team situations, in their games and competitions,” Riordan said. “They add very well to the discussion when we talk about those things. I think they do bring something special.”
Ellis intends to add to that discussion. Working his way back from consecutive seasons truncated by knee surgeries, Ellis already achieved an undergraduate business degree in hospitality management.
In July, Ellis joyously tweeted about his acceptance into the Sports Management MBA program.
Despite the knee injuries, Ellis still harbors NFL dreams. If a playing career doesn’t materialize, however, he sees himself as a future collegiate athletic director.
“I wanted to get in the program because there are a bunch of people in the Sports MBA program who have not played college athletics,” Ellis said. “As for me, I have played college athletics, and I feel like I can give more of a voice to the athletes if I wanted to go the athletic director route. I felt like that was a perfect fit for me.”